Sunday, July 22, 2007

Congresswoman Kaipat's June 17 Letter to House and Senate Members

June 17, 2007

To The Honorable Members of the House and Senate:


Within the next few days or so, each of you will be asked for your vote to pass H.B. 15-38: The Commonwealth Employment Act of 2007 without any amendments. A few weeks ago, we gave you a slide presentation on the proposed revised version of the draft labor reform bill. We made a detailed record of all of your comments and suggestions at that session. Since then –

*We have held a public hearing to get additional input from the people of the community.

*We have considered and implemented the recently-released recommendations of the Office of the Public Auditor and the private-sector Jobs Study Committee as to jobs for which citizens and permanent residents should be afforded employment preferences.

*We have consulted with the Chamber of Commerce and HANMI to get input from the business community.

*We have requested and received comments from the Federal Ombudsman, from lawyers representing foreign national workers in the Commonwealth, and from the Philippine Counsel General.

*And we have worked extensively with the lawyers from the CNMI Department of Labor to get the bill into final shape.

I think nearly everyone realizes that we can and should do better in providing a practical, fair legislative framework for employment in the Commonwealth. Nearly all of the comments we have received have been offered in this spirit – of improving what we have and making a fair balance with respect to the interests of citizens and permanent residents, businesses, foreign national workers, and the government agencies with enforcement responsibilities.

Joint legislative session: These are the principal changes we implemented with respect to the comments we got at the informal joint legislative session:

* Devised a better system for health insurance for foreign national workers

* Worked out a better system for bonding of employer obligations for foreign national workers

* Limited the exceptions to the preference for citizen employment in the government

* Implemented compliance with the Resident Workers Fair Compensation Act

*We also accommodated nearly all of the very good suggestions for smaller changes that we got at that session.

Local resident workers: This is what we did with respect to the concerns of citizens and permanent resident workers expressed at the public hearing and in other comments we have received:

*Implemented the Public Auditor's recommendations with respect to job categories in which citizens and permanent residents get an employment preference. This expands the private sector preferences significantly

*Expanded the preference for government hiring of citizens and cut back on government hiring of foreign national workers

*Improved the functionality of the existing moratorium on hiring foreign national workers

*Provided for the right to sue if a qualified citizen applicant is turned down in favor of a foreign national worker

Local businesses and employers: This is what we did to accommodate the concerns of local businesses and employers expressed in our meetings with the Chamber, HANMI, and others:

*Provided flexibility to employers to make hiring, termination, and exit decisions

*Eased the regulatory burdens on small businesses employing fewer than 10 full-time employees

*Provided incentive exemptions to regulatory requirements for employers who exceed the 20% requirement in categories of jobs as to which citizens and permanent residents are available and are most likely to consider as attractive opportunities

*Provided affordable options for health insurance and bonding so that small businesses and employers of domestic helpers are not adversely affected

Foreign national workers: This is what we did to improve the fair employment conditions for foreign national workers:

*Provided better, more practical protections against exploitation by recruiters and employers so that every worker who comes to the Commonwealth will have a clear understanding of their rights and responsibilities under our system

*Accommodated the comments received from the Philippine Counsel General

*Accepted certain recommendations of the federal ombudsman with respect to inspections and enforcement

*Reduced fees for filing a labor complaint or appeal to make it less costly to access the administrative hearing system

The CNMI Department of Labor: This is what we did to get better performance from the Department of Labor:

*Added dispute-avoidance and early dispute resolution provisions to cut down on the caseload of labor complaints

*Improved the inspection powers of the Department with respect to the places where foreign national workers work and live

*Provided clear criteria for the decisions that are made within the Department and flexible regulatory power to meet new circumstances in the future

*Reduced the Department's paperwork burden to accommodate the problem of reduced resources to operate the Department under current economic decisions

In the end, every legislative enactment involves a balancing of competing interests. This is especially the case with respect to a labor reform bill. I believe that, as the result of more than a year's work and the participation in our labor task force of many busy people, the balance we have achieved is an outstanding bill that will be a credit to the Commonwealth. No one got everything they wanted, but no one was slighted or left out, and the bill provides a net benefit for everyone affected by it.

Since that first slide presentation, I invited each and every one of you to attend the final presentation last Monday, June 11, to discuss the final proposed version of the bill. I feel that the JGO Committee has made every effort to educate everyone on this important bill. I strongly believe that this is a very, very good bill, and I hope we can all act on it quickly.

Thank you, Si Yu'us Ma'ase yan Olomwaay.

/s/ Representative Jacinta M. Kaipat
Judiciary and Governmental Operations
15th Commonwealth Legislature

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